(This article was originally published at Three-Toed Sloth , and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Kernel regression controls the amount of smoothing indirectly by bandwidth; why not control the irregularity of the smoothed curve directly? The spline smoothing problem is a penalized least squares problem: minimize mean squared error, plus a penalty term proportional to average curvature of the function over space. The solution is always a continuous piecewise cubic polynomial, with continuous first and second derivatives. Altering the strength of the penalty moves along a bias-variance trade-off, from pure OLS at one extreme to pure interpolation at the other; changing the strength of the penalty is equivalent to minimizing the mean squared error under a constraint on the average curvature. To ensure consistency, the penalty/constraint should weaken as the data grows; the appropriate size is selected by cross-validation. An example with the data, including confidence bands. Writing splines as basis functions, and fitting as least squares on transformations of the data, plus a regularization term. A brief look at splines in multiple dimensions. Splines versus kernel regression.

*Reading*: Notes, chapter 8

*Optional reading*: Faraway, section 11.2.

Advanced Data Analysis from an Elementary Point of View

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